Having lunch at a coffee shop, I overheard an angry man raging at the woman he was with, calling her a “Gestapo” because she asked him a question. It seemed that she had caught him in a lie, and was quietly looking to have a conversation with him. She told him she was hurt. His discomfort exploded in a volcano of expletives and insults. He hurled words at her like sticks of dynamite and seemed to delight in lighting the fuse….
Gestapo? The Gestapo, the Nazi secret police, exerted a torturous and murdering force over innocent men, women, and children. Their brutality was devoid of humanity.
If I had to give an account of what I witnessed, he was the oppressor: he shamed and humiliated. He was the one wielding the power and force. Everything he said was loud and menacing, inappropriate, poisonous, contemptuous, controlling. Every time she tried to speak, he’d bully her, and tell her to shut up. There was no empathy, or acknowledgement of her discomfort, only his. Though he was caught in a lie he couldn’t deny, he was “explaining” what was wrong with her, and how “distorted” her thinking was. He told her that he was sick of her behavior, and that he was the one who was hurt.
She wasn’t reactive — she did not fight him or insult him, she did ask for an apology. He refused.
Her discomfort, in fact, seemed to fuel his rage. He demanded that she apologize to him — and take responsibility for causing his fury: he said it was her fault. Perhaps what was most disturbing was that once he finished his self-absorbed rant, he was composed. He insisted she not ruin another outing with her “negativity”. He insisted she stop pouting, and “let it go”. They were, he reminded her, out for a relaxing lunch together.
Though there was no physical confrontation, or argument, it was one of the ugliest examples of verbal and emotional abuse I’ve witnessed.
What do you think?
In language, some words diminish in value, the meaning loses its weight over time. Today, everyone’s a genius. And everything that happens is epic. There are also words and phrases that completely lose their true meaning, their relevance, and their beauty, in a devolution of their original form.
Over the weekend I attended the virtual Essential Magic Conference, hosted in Portugal by Luis de Matos. It was filled with the best in magic, and attended by over two thousand people from 74 countries. It is a fine learning experience, and creatively stimulating, even if you are not interested in magic. One of the presenters was Norberto Jansenson, whose work combines storytelling, mystery and magic. His talk was intense and inspiring, and something he mentioned struck a chord. It was the true, lost meaning of “abracadabra”.
While the word “abracadabra” may bring to mind faded images of magic acts replete with red curtains and a rabbit in a hat, the original word is far more compelling. There is a theory that the word is derived from a Semitic language. Jansenson says it is Aramaic in origin: “Avra kehdabra” — meaning “I will create as I speak”. How beautiful, rich, and powerful. It represents the spontaneity that, in the moment, gives way to articulation and creativity — sparking and igniting right before your eyes. It is a shared experience of wonder, from the ancient Greek theater to this morning’s street performer, occurring in full presence of the moment.
With a little digging, I found the source of the phrase may originate from these three words – ab (father), ben (son) and ruach acadosch (holy spirit). The three points form a triangle, a trinity, and the enclosed space of the three lines is where building is possible. Where things begin. Where magic happens. Art. Articulation. Astonishment. I will create as I speak. Abracadabra.
With gratitude to Mr. Jansenson for creating that moment,